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Gaia Theory

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March, 2011

All around us, we see the earth in crisis. Just today there was an article in the paper reporting that the ocean floor beneath the giant British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was dead. Japan was just hit by a large earthquake and tsunami that threatened to cause a nuclear plant to melt-down. North of us is a drastically warming arctic, south of us are the disappearing rain forests, in the oceans all around us are dying coral reefs and incomprehensible pollution. How did we reach this desperate situation? Simply put, modern man has taken an ownership attitude toward the earth. It’s almost as if we declared war on the planet and are trying to destroy it. Before we can fix the problem, we have to understand how we got here. To do that let’s examine man’s attitude toward the earth through history.

 I am neither qualified, nor is there time or space here, to do real justice to such a huge topic. If you want to learn more about Gaia theory, I very highly recommend a book by Stephan Harding titled Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia. He does a wonderful job of making the teachings of Gaia heartfelt and the science easily understandable. Large parts of it remind me of a love poem to the Sacred Earth Mother we call Gaia. I don’t mind telling you that it often brought tears to my eyes. I give it 5 stars and two thumbs way up!!

For as far back as we have a record of humans on the earth, there was almost universally a reverence toward the earth as the sacred mother of us all. We all know She gave us life, and received our dead back into the soil. It was obvious that everything that we needed for life came to us from the earth. Food, water, clothes, shelter, light and warmth, all were gifts from the Earth Mother. Nearly all humans believed that the earth was alive and personal. Even if there were no other people around, they all knew that they were never alone because the earth, sky, rocks, and living things all around were alive and each had a soul and spirit. As far as we know, this continued throughout prehistory. Nearly all indigenous peoples, even to the present time, continue to hold this view.

The earth is our mother, we sing… She is the literal womb of life, providing all that we need. Her living soil feeds us, her rocks make our bones, her minerals are in our life’s blood. The very heart of Goddess spirituality and of other indigenous traditions is the recognition that the earth is sacred. This understanding of the earth is very old and very widespread. The earliest works of human art are ancient figurines of full-bodied, big-breasted, and big-bellied women that embody the sacred quality of life-giving earth/flesh. – Starhawk

The ancient Greeks called the earth mother Gaia and she preceded all the other Greek gods. Today, we still acknowledge her without even knowing it. The words ge-ography, ge-ology and ge-ometry all contain the base syllable of “Ge” which is the ancient and original name of Gaia. Primitive peoples regarded the earth as sacred and to be treated with reverence. They took from Her only after giving thanks and leaving some small gift in exchange.

Compare that attitude with that of most people today. It has completely changed. Today we see the earth as an object to be subdued and damaged in any way we want. Humans are the gods, and the earth has only one purpose which is to serve and feed us. How could this incredible change have happened? One common theory is that it began about 4,000 years ago when man first began to cultivate crops. Suddenly, the earth was no longer the source of all our food, instead we created food for ourselves. Beyond that, the earth seemed to oppose the growing of crops. Insects and other animals came to eat them, weeds and other plants kept popping up, chocking out our crops. Drought and bad weather often conspired to kill them. It was as if the earth became our enemy overnight, and now we were at war with it.

But this was just the beginning of our change in attitude toward Gaia. Two more forces were still to come and do everything they could to wipe-out all memories of Gaia from our mind: 1) The three major religions from the middle-east 2) Modern science. These are strange bedfellows that disagree on almost everything, but they agree on one thing: the earth is not alive, it does not have a soul, Gaia is nothing but a ridiculous myth and we must conquer, subdue and use the earth for any purpose we see fit. Religion saw the whole physical realm as evil, base and fallen. It is opposed to God, who is spiritual, therefore it must be subdued. Science saw the earth as a vast machine to be studied and used. Like any other machine, it existed only to serve men in any way they wanted. The influence of these two gigantic forces was nearly irresistible. Their teaching about Gaia spread throughout the Western world until very few people would admit to feeling any reverence toward a living earth. Fortunately there were always a few pockets of belief, and the counter-culture move of the 1960s brought forth many different New Age and ancient Pagan beliefs that revered the earth. At the same time, our hatred toward the earth began to bear fruit. Air and water pollution were so bad in the 60s and 70s, that it was very obvious that something had to be done about our wanton destruction of the earth and a vibrant enviromental/ecological movement was born. Suddenly, Native Americans were not seen as “stupid injins” but as wise stewards of the land we should learn from.

We must remember the chemical connections between our cells and the stars, between the beginning and now. We must remember and reactivate the primal consciousness of oneness between all living things. We must return to that time, in our genetic memory, in our dreams, when we were one species born to live together on Earth as her magic children. Barbara Mor

It was the British scientist and inventor James Lovelock who made a discovery that led to what is now known as the Gaia theory. Lovelock was working for NASA in the 1960s on solving the problem of how to know if there was life on Mars. He saw that studying the atmosphere of a planet should reveal if there was life on the planet. The processes of all living things create gases that accumulate in the atmosphere which then greatly affect the temperature and weather of the planet. On a planet with life on it, the atmosphere is constantly active and changing, but on a dead planet without life, the atmosphere is static and unchanging. In the process of studying the Earth’s atmosphere, he made an amazing discovery—the Earth’s atmosphere had been constantly livable for over 300 million years. There is an upper and lower temperature that the atmosphere must not go above or below or life will be extinguished and disappear. In the entire 300 million year period, it had stayed in that narrow range. That seemed extremely unlikely, especially since it was an established fact that the Sun’s output had increased by 25% in that time frame. Why hadn’t the Earth’s atmosphere gotten 25% warmer as well, wiping out life on Earth? Then one day it occurred to him that life on Earth not only made the atmosphere, but also regulated it. It is very common for living creatures to be self-regulating. A common example is blood sugar:  when blood sugar gets too high, another chemical is released to reduce it. Could it be that the Earth had some kind of a self-regulating system in place that set up a counter-action to the Sun’s increasing output? He named his new theory Gaia, after the ancient Greek Earth Mother Goddess. As he began to talk to other scientists about his theory, the general reaction was negative. After all, the Earth was just a machine that obeyed the laws of science, it couldn’t deliberately take action that kept life possible. Only living things could do that, and the Earth is not alive.

Lovelock continued to work on his new theory and to find ways to conduct experiments that would provide scientific evidence of the truth of his theory. In 1981, he finally figured it out. Computer modeling had advanced to the point that he was able to devise a model that could prove or disprove his theory. He called it Daisy-world and it worked. The computer model clearly showed that the Earth was self-regulating over a long period of time. The Gaia theory became established.

As with all things in science, the conclusions you reach from a given set of facts will probably be set by your own prejudices. We all have to reach our own conclusions from the Gaia theory, but for me, there is no question. If only living things are self-regulating, and the Earth is known to be self-regulating, then I believe the Earth itself is alive. Let me tell you why. Nearly everyone I have ever talked to has had a time when they were in nature and had a deep, certain knowing that there was something greater than themselves out there. Most people will say it happened when they were watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Or looking at a black sky filled to overflowing with stars, or some other moment of beauty in nature. At that moment they had a deep, intuitive knowing that they were only a very small part of something incomprehensibly huge. I firmly believe that was Gaia whispering words of love in our ears.

Next time a sunrise steals your breath or a meadow of flowers leave you speechless, remain that way. Say nothing, and listen as heaven whispers, “Do you like it? I did it just for you”. – Max Lucado

Since I became a vandweller, I spend the great majority of my time in nature. On a regular basis I have the experience described above. I’ve come to expect it and only want a life that includes it. That combined with the hard science in favor of the Gaia theory leaves me with no doubt whatsoever that the Gaia theory is true, that this planet is Sacred, Living, and Animate. Exactly what that means is beyond my understanding, but I know it is true. What I know for sure is that I must reject the way mainstream religion and science describe and treat the Earth. It is not an enemy to be feared and subdued. It is not a machine to be exploited and used. I must walk in reverence toward it, treating it with the respect and dignity I would give to any other person. Even more, I must honor it as my Sacred Earth Mother.

Having grown up in a soul-less world that rejects any possibility that the Earth is a living, animate being, it is probably pretty hard for you to embrace this strange new idea. Consider this: do you like the fruit of a world that thinks of the Earth as an enemy or a machine to be used in any way you see fit? Beyond the terrible devastation to the physical planet, and the real possibility of wiping out our race, consider the emotional and spiritual state of mankind that has rejected Gaia. Everywhere you see hearts so hard that we have become alienated from one another. Crime against fellow humans and the animals around us are rampant. Depression and addiction have become national epidemics. People are lost and lonely so they turn to drugs, alcohol, meaningless sex, or simply withdraw into their own world.

We tried following the teachings of religion and science toward Gaia, and the results have been awful. What do we have to lose by following a different path? We can go back to our roots and begin to see the Earth as a Sacred, Living, Animate Being, as Gaia. We can still follow the religion of our choice and embrace the proven truths of science. There doesn’t have to be a conflict between them and Gaia. We will simply begin to see the Earth as a “person” that we can’t really understand or relate to, but that we love and honor. In the same way that you love and protect your loved ones, you will love and protect the Earth. In the same way that you long to spend all the time you can with your lover, so will you long to spend time in nature and cultivate a relationship.

If you will honestly embrace this new lifestyle to the greatest degree you can, I am sure your life will be changed. Your soul will begin to sing a new, joyful song. The anxieties and cares of this life will be reduced. Peace and joy will become your companion. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain!


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